For the past couple years, now that I have children, I have wrestled with Christmas. I am no longer a Christian. I don't necessarily have an "ism" I can claim. Perhaps I am a Humanist or a Naturalist. I do believe there is something at work in the universe - some kind of energy or power or spirit. I believe it could eventually be explained through scientific research and greater understanding. But, I am quite certain, that there will always be more for us to learn, an infinite amount of information that, because of our probable limited time of human existence, means that we may never know. We will probably never know, for sure, about "god." Therefore, I guess, I am an agnostic. However, because I believe there is something at work, and, because I believe, most of all, in humankind, I'm still very much on the hunt for understanding. I'm still very much in love with spiritual pursuit. I'm sill reading and talking and craving information. I'm not content to say, "Ah, well, we can't know, so let's just sit down and do nothing." What's the fun in that?
I went to church this past Sunday. I went with my neighbor and new friend to a Unitarian Universalist church. I don't know why I never did this before. I guess I always had this idea that UU had some sort of doctrine of vague Christian values or something very bland and boring. I didn't get the point. But, what I've been craving since leaving Christianity, is a community. I've been missing the music. I've been missing the gathering. I've been missing that special time set aside each week dedicated to reflecting. I know I could make up some sort of practice in our home, and I do want to establish some practice for myself and for our family. However, what I wanted more was to gather and discuss and spent time in communion. But this is very difficult if I also don't want to sign my name to some belief system or have my children indoctrinated with some sort of dogma. Well, UU is the perfect solution. It's a church for all of us who are on these winding paths. It's a place to gather for community and support while on your own spiritual journey. Atheist? Welcome. Sit down and have some cookies. I'm a big fan. This is exactly what I've been wanting. I've found a path of understanding and practice through Shambhala, but this is really more of an individual journey. It's, in fact, very lonely. And I can't take the kids with me to meditation. So, church...who would have thought I'd be back at church. But they have nursery and preschool classes and coffee and cookies and small groups and book discussions. We can learn all about other religions and teach our children about faith and no faith and have a community of support as we're on our own journeys. Yes, I'm a big fan. I get to sing hymns and listen to a choir. Maya gets to go to Sunday School. But instead of learning that she's going to hell without Jesus, she's learning about listening and being kind and respecting others.
So, back to Christmas. I have this internal struggle with Christmas. First of all, I have all of these warm, wonderful memories of Christmas. I loved decorating and making presents. In PNG we had no means and no money, so presents were often hand-made for each other. My parents would plan, months in advance, and have people send us packages with very special things Michael and I had requested. It was so exciting...the anticipation, the one present on Christmas Eve, the stockings, the big breakfast, the opening of gifts, the day spent in PJs playing with new toys and cooking and eating. I loved it all. However, after returning to the US, Christmas started to get really out of control. My mom, in response to growing up with very little, loves to buy gifts. She loves to find just the right thing (or many things) for everyone. It's the day she loves more than any other. And I get it. I'm a gift giver too. I do love thinking of just the right thing. The problem is, it can so easily become this day of ridiculous consumption. Present after present gets opened and piled into gluttonous piles of STUFF, some of which we need, most of which is just stuff. And there's a part of me, the same part who walks through Target and lusts after shiny objects, that loves the greediness and abundance of all of that. But the bigger part of me, the spiritual part of me, knows that all that excess is just not good for any of us. PLUS, we just don't have a lot of money to spend on 8 million gifts for every member of the family.
And then there's Santa. I didn't grow up believing in Santa, and neither did Marco. It just feels sort of odd to tell my kids that a man is going to come in the night and break into our house and we should leave him cookies. But it's cultural, and all her friends will believe in Santa, and everyone tells me that it was so magical. And there's something kind of fun about this spirit of Christmas, of giving, who goes around the world and passes out gifts. I get that.
Last year I decided that we'd only give hand-made gifts. The only presents I remember from my childhood are the hand-made gifts. And I intended on only giving Maya hand-made gifts. But that is nearly impossible, especially with two newborns. But last year Maya got too much stuff. She was totally happy when she opened her tool box, and we could have really left it at that. However, part of the memory of Christmas is all the gifts under the tree, all the unknowns. I was excited for my brother's gifts too. There was just so much mystery. So, I'm back to thinking this over.
In an effort to help myself resolve some Christmas issues, I looked online to find out about the UU view of Christmas, and I found these two great sermons. First is a sermon on why they celebrate Christmas. And it makes so much sense. It's all about the birth of a child, the birth of hope of a new world. I love that. The second sermon is all about light. And that is the thing I keep coming back to...light in a time of darkness. There are just so many religious holidays at this time of year that celebrate light. Diwali, Hanukkah, Christmas, the winter solstice, and Kwanzaa are all festivals of lights. We are desperately looking for hope, for light during a period of immense darkness and cold and the feeling that it will never end. We celebrate hope. And, as he says in the sermon, we celebrate our own freedom to celebrate. So many, throughout the history of mankind, have been denied their ability to celebrate, so we celebrate hope for them, the light of hope in all mankind. We celebrate our ability to join together to overcome adversity. We celebrate the coming of the sun again.
So, this year, I think I've pretty much come to terms with the fact that I very much want to celebrate Christmas. And, even though I don't believe in Christ as my savior, I believe in the joy of his birth and the hope he brought. That's reason enough to celebrate, right? And I believe in the giving of ourselves so that we might bring joy to others. I'm still not sure about Santa, but we might leave him cookies, just in case. I think we'll start our own tradition of lighting candles. And I think I want to have them gather one toy each day during the week leading up to Christmas and put them in a pile to give away. And I definitely want to continue the hand-made tradition. I'm going to let my mom buy gifts, within reason. And Maya will get a few special gifts, and she'll give a few special gifts. And I think we'll start doing the Posada, the Mexican tradition of bringing baby Jesus to the manger. And we'll have to have a piñata and ponche. I definitely want to have stockings with tiny little treasures like toothbrushes and socks and oranges and nuts. And food will be cooked, in abundance. I'm sure, as they get older, we'll develop other traditions. I'm really open to ideas, so post away. I think I'll make an advent calendar this year where, instead of chocolates, we light a candle and say a blessing and maybe find coins...I'll have to work that out. But I'm coming to terms with my faith, or lack thereof, and I'm really happy Christmas is coming. Happy Holidays! Enjoy Thanksgiving first of all! :)